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City Council: QNI study OK'd

When it came down to the final two firms that could conduct Bemidji's Quality Neighborhood Study, the committee decided it wanted both.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday voted 6-0 in favor of proceeding with the study, which is now slated to be done in two phases.

The QNI study will examine neighborhoods and housing issues. The need for the study was identified during the now-abandoned idea of temporarily imposing a moratorium on the conversion of single-family homes into rental properties.

Two firms - Bonestroo out of St. Paul and the Headwaters Regional Development Commission - were selected as finalists from seven that submitted proposals to Bemidji.

A committee that interviewed the two firms found that both offered expertise.

"The committee would like to recommend a dove-tailed approach that utilizes the expertise of both firms and provides the most long-term benefit for the community," wrote City Manager John Chattin in a memorandum to the City Council.

The final cost of the QNI study is not exactly known.

Bonestroo will be hired for $48,000 to complete the QNI study and develop a set of best practices. The money will come from the 2010 contingency fund, which had $126,000 available in August.

Councilors noted, too, that there could be a grant possibility that could assist in the cost.

Bonestroo's proposal included an expectation of assistance from city staff. Chattin said that some city staff time will be available, but additional contracted time from the HRDC may be required in 2010.

"We cannot determine the amount of time needed until we see how much assistance city staff (is) able to provide," Chattin wrote in the memorandum.

HRDC would then be contracted to implement the best practices. The contract with the HRDC will be negotiated at a later date.

The cost for the QNI study initially was expected to be between $35,000 and $50,000.

The committee that interviewed the two firms included Councilors Roger Hellquist, Ron Johnson and Kevin Waldhausen; Chattin; Rita Albrecht, the city's community development director; and Mel Milender, the administrator for the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning office.

"Bonestroo was very experienced with universities," Johnson said, "and our immediate concern is with that area."

Hellquist said Bonestroo really understood the crux of the issues facing Bemidji.

"Why invent the wheel when they're the ones with the expertise?" agreed Councilor Jerry Downs, who was acting as mayor pro tem in Mayor Richard Lehmann's absence.